CREWE is known as a ‘railway town’ because of the way it grew to service the largest locomotive factory in the world in the 1800s, and after last night’s visit to Gresty Road, Sunderland can content themselves with the knowledge that their promotion push is well and truly on track.

Having threatened to hit the buffers as they conceded four goals at Portsmouth prior to the international break, the Black Cats have successfully signalled their intent with back-to-back victories at Gillingham and Crewe in the space of four days.

One point adrift of surprise League One leaders Plymouth, but back in the automatic-promotion positions with two games in hand on the only team above them, Lee Johnson’s side have proved a temporary setback will not see them derailed. Hopefully, it is a case of full steam ahead for the Championship.

Last night’s victory was an emphatic as they come, with Sunderland outclassing a Crewe side that will do well to remain in the third tier this season. Having been handed an opener on a plate when Crewe defender Terell Thomas sliced Alex Pritchard’s cross into his own net, the Black Cats effectively settled things via two goals from Ross Stewart either side of the interval.

Sunderland’s leading scorer angled a deft diving header into the net to make it 2-0, and prodded home from close range to extend his side’s advantage to three ten minutes into the second half.

Leon Dajaku’s superb solo effort put Sunderland four goals clear in the closing stages – the substitute galloped into the Crewe penalty area from the halfway line before drilling home a fiercely-hit finish at the near post – and the Black Cats might well have added a fifth or even a sixth, such was the quality of their attacking play on the break.

With a number of senior players unavailable because of injury, this was supposed to be a period when Johnson’s squad was being stretched. Instead, a slight shuffling of the pack has merely underlined the strength of the resources at the Black Cats boss’ disposal.

Last night, the impact of Elliot Embleton’s absence, at the start of a three-match suspension following his weekend dismissal at Gillingham, was certainly ameliorated by the return of Aiden McGeady, who was back in the side after recovering from an ankle injury.

With McGeady on the left flank and Aiden O’Brien marauding down the right, there was a balance to Sunderland’s attacking play that enabled them to offer a threat on the break all evening.

The visitors carved out chances at regular intervals all night, although, initially, Crewe goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen, son of former Bolton favourite Jussi, staged a one-man defensive show to keep them out.

Jaaskelainen tipped Tom Flanagan’s ninth-minute header over the crossbar as the Sunderland centre-half looked to follow up Saturday’s goal at Gillingham with another successful effort, and displayed smart reflexes again three minutes later as he clawed away Pritchard’s goal-bound strike.

Pritchard, playing in a central role behind Stewart, was involved in most of Sunderland’s best attacking moves, and after Jaaskelainen made his third fine save to keep out O’Brien’s backheel flick from McGeady’s low cross, Sunderland’s summer signing from Huddersfield played a prominent role in the move that broke the deadlock.

Having burst into a pocket of space down the left-hand side, Pritchard whipped a teasing cross towards the edge of the six-yard box. Crewe centre-half Thomas strained every sinew to get ahead of O’Brien, but his attempted clearance sliced horribly off the outside of his boot, with the ball flying past a helpless Jaaskelainen and into his own net.

It was a fortuitous opener, but Sunderland’s wonderfully-worked second goal, which came just seven minutes later, owed nothing to luck. A patient passing move involving three or four players down the right flank picked up pace when Pritchard slid through a pass to release Dan Neil into the right of the box.

Neil, whose performances this season have been consistently excellent, crossed the ball into the middle, and having eased away from his marker, Stewart angled a deft diving header across Jaaskelainen and into the far corner. It was the Scotsman’s eighth goal of the campaign, with a ninth following at the start of the second half, a more than creditable return given the questions that were asked about his ability to step up and replace Charlie Wyke in the summer. That conundrum has been well and truly put to bed.

Crewe would have been even further behind before the interval had O’Brien not fired wide at the back post towards the end of the first half – having raced into the six-yard box to reach McGeady’s cross, the Irishman didn’t really have time to steady himself before getting a shot away – and while home manager David Artell switched to a five-man backline in an attempt to contain Sunderland’s attacking, his efforts proved in vain.

Sunderland effectively had the game won by half-time, although they were forced to contain Crewe in a ten-minute spell before the deadlock was broken that saw the home side in the ascendancy for the only time all night.

Thorben Hoffman made a routine save from J’Neil Bennett as the forward fired in a low shot, and the Sunderland goalkeeper was scampering to his left as Scott Robertson picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area before drilling a low shot just wide of the post.

That was really that in terms of the Black Cats being under any significant pressure though, with the second half largely an exercise in game management.

Carl Winchester flashed in a long-range 50th-minute strike that Jaaskelainen just about managed to gather at the second attempt, and with Sunderland continuing to dominate in terms of both territory and possession, the visitors claimed a third goal ten minutes into the second half.

Pritchard, who was involved in all three of the Black Cats’ goals, swung over a corner from the right, and after Callum Doyle flicked the ball on at the front post, Stewart was left with the simple task of prodding home from close range.

The ‘Loch Ness Drogba’ might well have had a hat-trick had he not tried to be unselfish midway through the second half – having robbed Donervon Daniels deep in the Crewe half, he tried to pick out McGeady rather than driving into the 18-yard box himself – but Sunderland did not have to wait too much longer to make it four.

Dajaku, a second-half replacement for Pritchard, picked up the ball on the halfway line, and with defenders backing off him, the German youngster drove all the way into the Crewe 18-yard box. He could have passed to either of the two Sunderland players who had broke forward inside him, but instead, he hammered in a shot that flew past Jaaskelainen at the near post.

Johnson has been forced to add a few youngsters to his squad in recent weeks, but the presence of Dajaku on the bench, along with the likes of Bailey Wright and Denver Hume, augurs well for the next few months.